Bulldogs Pull Away From Valparaiso, 84-67

Butler used a balanced offensive attack and an aggressive defense to turn a close game into an 84-67 victory over visiting Valparaiso in the Horizon League opener for both teams at Hinkle Fieldhouse on Saturday (Dec. 5).  The Bulldogs, playing at home for just the second time this season, improved to 6-2 on the year.

Sophomore Gordon Hayward led five Butler players in double-figures with 18 points, while adding a career-high five assists.  Junior Matt Howard chipped in with 16 points, senior Willie Veasley added 15, sophomore Shelvin Mack had 11 and senior Avery Jukes came off the bench with 10.

But it was Butler’s defensive effort that turned the tide.  The Bulldogs came up with a season-high 13 steals, while forcing Valparaiso into 15 turnovers.  Butler out-scored the visitors 22-12 on points off turnovers.  Sophomore Ronald Nored led the way with a career-high five steals.

“Their defense was tenacious,” said Valparaiso head coach Homer Drew after the game.  “It was a very smothering defense.  Our turnovers really cost us.”

Valparaiso (3-5) gave the Bulldogs all they could handle in the first half.  Behind the hot hands of Michael Rogers and Tommy Kurth, the Crusaders built a 23-18 lead midway through the first half.  Rogers nailed three three-point field goals and Kurth added a pair of long range shots to fuel Valparaiso’s early run.

But the Bulldogs answered by out-scoring the visitors, 20-9 in the final six and a half minutes of the half to grab a 38-32 halftime lead.

“I have to credit them.  Kurth comes out and makes two big ones and Rogers makes three in the first half, and that matches what they’ve done to that point,” said Butler head coach Brad Stevens after the game.  “They were obviously a team that we had to defend well and for most of the game, I think we did that.”

“Offensively, I felt we were moving the ball, finding the open guys and knocking down shots.”

Butler opened the second half with an 18-8 scoring run to build a 16-point lead and the margin stayed in double-figures for the rest of the game.  Hayward fueled the early explosion with seven points, assists on a pair of three-point field goals by Veasley and another assist on a basket by Jukes.

The Bulldogs offset the hot shooting of Valparaiso by blistering the nets at a 56.8% (25-44) clip.  Butler shot 68.8% in the second half, including 66.7% (4-6) from the three-point arc.

Butler, coming off six consecutive games away from Hinkle Fieldhouse, will head back on the road for a nationally-televised (ESPN) game against #16/14 Georgetown at Madison Square Garden on Tuesday (Dec. 8).  The game, part of the Jimmy V Classic, will tip at 7 p.m. (ET).